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Monday, February 24, 2014

WTF folk medicine? (Rant warning)

Hey kiddos, how has everyone been the last few weeks?  It's been ....interesting to say the least.  Chaos at work, at home, at the Skeptical Okie headquarters, and everywhere in between.  There have been some interesting things in the world of science, which have been covered by everybody.  So once again, this is going to be a rant at dangerous, misguided beliefs.

This is a bit off topic, but I highly recommend listening to the Monster Talk podcast.  Blake Smith and his guests do a good job discussing various cryptids and the likelihood of their existence.  I heartily endorse Monster Talk and urge anyone interested in Nessie, Bigfoot, Chupacabra, Mothman, and any other cryptids to go and give them a listen,  You won't be disappointed.  (Just let them know I sent you.)

Todays topic once again is based loosely on my work, and it relates back to several previous posts.  I'm talking about, as you can surmise from the title, folk medicine.  What brought this on is an encounter at my place of employment.  As I've said in the past, I work in animal welfare for a largish city.  As I was walking through the dog kennels, I saw an older woman looking intently at a young pup in one of the pens.  I walked up and began talking to her and at some point canine diseases come up.  She stated that her daughters dog had parvo and was nearly dead.  She gave it a wormer, and it was better the next day.  I looked at her and, thinking to use this as a teaching moment, told her that wormer only works on internal parasites, not a virus like parvo.  It will get rid of roundworms, tapeworms, or pinworms, depending on the type of wormer used.  Parvo is a virus, so it has to be treated symptomatically.  She looked at me and said "Nope, it was parvo, I just know it, and the wormer worked, just like always.  Just as a side note, there are some parasite infestations that can cause symptoms similar to parvo, which is why it's important to take your animal to the vet anytime it begins to act ill.  The woman then followed that amazing cure with another one.  She said her 12 year old German Shepherd had had distemper, and been suffering from it for about 5 days.  She put 1 drop of Blue-in in its water and the next day, it was cured.  Surely everyone from the 80's remembers Blue -in?

Image from Google Images
When I asked her what her vet had said about her dog, she said she doesn't go to a vet, because the old ways work the best. (Can you say Argument from Antiquity?  I knew you could.)  If her dog actually had distemper, blue clothing dye wouldn't have had any effect.  Once again, distemper is a virus and needs to be treated symptomatically.  And according to the vet and several vet techs and assistants at the facility, even if an animal recovers from distemper, it normally has neurological damage due to the extreme high fever.  What this woman's dog  more than likely, had was either a sinus infection or Bordetella, also called Kennel Cough.  She probably "medicated" the dog as the disease was finishing it's natural course, and of course it seemed he was cured. (Correlation does not equal causation)

Many folk medicines tend to fall under naturopathy.  Natural cures, herbal medicines, and the like.  They also tend to heavily rely on off label uses of various products.  This just means they aren't using the item as directed.  An anecdotal example is from when I was young.  I found out the hard way I am allergic to Neosporin, so my families idea was to use Corona (not the beer) on my various injuries.

Image from Google Images
On the label, it says "Not for use on humans"   Makes me wonder what my parents thought I was?  Maybe that's why I was always called a Hobbit growing up.  But I digress.  Another one is when my brother, who was about 5, caught chicken pox.  First, he was intentionally exposed, which was a practice that was quickly falling out of favor at the time.  Then he was put into a scalding hot bath and given a shot of Jack Daniels whiskey (that is not a typo) to speed the process up.  I'm surprised, looking back, that any of us survived childhood.

There are almost as many folk cures as there are people and diseases combined.  Some are fairly benign, such as chicken soup or orange juice for a cold.  Some are dangerous, like alcohol to a small child to speed up chicken pox.  Some are deadly, like azarcon, which is a powder that contains high levels of lead some people give to their children for stomach aches.  There are just too many variations, not only based on culture, but also geography, to even start listing them.  However, one thing most of them have in common is that they are generally passed down through the family or culture and have been used for decades, if not centuries.  Another thing they have in common is that if they were effective, then they have been tested and the active ingredients isolated, the effectiveness greatly improved, and are now manufactured by pharmaceutical companies.

As I mentioned in the example of the woman with the 2 dogs, there are also many, many folk cures used on animals.  The ones that come immediately to mind involve garlic and tobacco and motor oil.  If a dog were bred by an undesirable male, then some of the old timers would shove an entire clove of garlic down the dogs throat to induce an abortion.  Many old cowboys would feed their horses a cigarette to worm them.  As I mentioned in my previous post, people used to pour motor oil on dogs to treat them for mange.  Sevin dust sprinkled directly on the animal was a treatment/preventative for a variety of external parasites.

One of the major problems with using folk medicine is that, much like homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, and anything else that falls under the Supplement, Complimentary, and Alternative Medicine (S.C.A.M. Thank you Mark Crislip) umbrella, is that no actual physician is ever consulted.  This means that there is no diagnosis.  Many diseases, from the minor to the fatal, have symptoms that are very similar, generally being "flu-like".  This means that while they may think they are treating something relatively minor, say a chest cold, the victim...sorry, I meant patient, could actually have the early stages of tuberculosis.  The people that promote and practice this crap are what used to be called hedge doctors.  They know a little bit about herbs and a little about diseases, not from education, but from their personal experience or family stories, and put 1 and 1 together and get 3.  Many times, in my line of work, I have heard someone say that their animal had parvo, or distemper, or they were poisoned and they cured them with some asinine treatment.  When I ask them what their vet said, they almost always say they didn't talk to a vet.  They talked to the guy down the street.  He has dogs, so he knows what he's talking about.  By that logic, because I have a microwave, I should be able to diagnose and treat radiation poisoning.  Another issue that many people in the skeptical community will find is that when talking with these people, or at least get them to look at the evidence, they will always fall back on the argument from antiquity, the natural fallacy, and sometimes they will even throw a conspiracy theory in for good measure.  My favorite of the last category is when people refuse to get their animal vaccinated for rabies, or even microchipped because they think the government will use it to track them.  Fun times.

Like I said at the beginning, this one is more of a rant than a researched post, mostly because I have covered most of this in one form or another previously.  I just thought I would throw it out there for those that are new to the skeptical community as an example of some of the misguided, pseudo-scientific bullshit you will run into on an almost daily basis.

I am having problems finding anyone that is willing to talk to me about the Sea Band that was suggested during my call for Woo products.  I still plan on discussing this product, but I don't know when I will be able to write it.  If anyone out there is a neurologist, neurosurgeon, or at this point, if you're neurotic, leave a comment. I will give you their responses to my questions and allow you to respond in kind.  I'm also working on a healing bracelet that has been harmonically synchronized with the Earth's own vibrational field (Urg, I think I had an anurism talking to the guy.)

Until next time, Be good, Be fair, and Be skeptical.

The Skeptical Okie

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